Illinois Public Media News
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's plan to reform the public pension system to save money would actually cost $95 billion extra over the next three decades.
Documents obtained by The Associated Press show Quinn would cut in half the amount of money the state would put into retirement systems for state employees in the next five years. But those short-term savings would be accompanied by much larger long-term costs.
The total cost would be $532 billion through 2045, up from $437 billion under the current pension plan.
Representatives of employees' unions and a legislative finance commission criticized the idea.
Quinn is trying to close an $11.6 billion deficit by raising income taxes and cutting spending. He has proposed lowering pension benefits for new employees to save money.
25 high school seniors from Champaign are among the first to take their courses in an accelerated setting.
They were honored Tuesday night as the first year of Unit 4's Academic Academy comes to a close. Principal Rhonda Howard says the graduates were formerly students at Central or Centennial High Schools but were falling behind on class credits and needed more advice on how to pursue a career. 67 students in all are enrolled at the school.
The Academy is based on five sessions of classes rather than two semesters, and the classes are smaller, providing for more one-on-one time with teachers. Howard says not every teen fits the mold of the traditional high school schedule.
"Many of our students have full time or part time jobs, and some of them have children. They have obligations outside the school setting that at times attendance has been difficult for them. So we have been able to offer that accelerated pace and help them catch up," Howard said, adding that students who have to miss school can take computer-based courses on line.
Each applicant to the academy must complete one year of school in a traditional setting, but past attendance, behavior records and current credit totals are also considered. In the academy's next year, Howard says she hopes to build on the school's list of guest speakers from the community and get more students involved in job shadowing programs and college visits.
The 25 seniors at Champaign's Academic Academy will also graduate with their home schools late this month.
Flooding from last Friday's heavy rainstorm was too much for a group of neighbors living south of the Kraft plant in Champaign. They want the city to do something about the poor drainage in their neighborhood.
James Creighton says his neighborhood has it worse than anyone, and he doesn't just mean last Friday's downpour.
"I believe it was Council member (Karen) Foster who asked three of four weeks ago if John Street was the worst neighborhood. And the answer was no, it was Copper Slough -- my neighborhood, south of Kraft, that's the worst neighborhood," Creighton told the council
He was among about a dozen people from the Copper Slough or Washington Street neighborhood located between Prospect and Mattis who came to Tuesday night's Champaign City Council meeting for some flood relief. They brought photos and eyewitness accounts of flooded basements and streets from last Friday and from previous rainstorms. Mary Ann Keith says last Friday's floodwaters came at her from both sides.
"When the water comes from Prospect, it comes from Mattis," Keith said. "It drains both directions. We actually stand outside and watch it come down the street."
Mayor Jerry Schweighart says the problem is a big one, and fixing it won't be easy. An upgrade of the neighborhood's storm sewer system would cost the city millions of dollars it doesn't have. In the meantime, Champaign's Neighborhood Services Department will hold a meeting in the neighborhood next week to listen to people's concerns. And City Engineer Roland White says new eco-friendly techniques like water permeable pavements and raingardens to hold in groundwater could help limit the degree of flooding during future rains.
The Champaign City Council is not protesting the Champaign County Board proposal to allow wind turbine farms in the county --- but it does have a suggestion.
Council members voted 5 to 4 Tuesday night to ask the county board to consider extending the city's buffers outside its borders where it has a say in zoning decisions to 2-and-a-half miles for wind farms. It's currently 1-and-a-half miles for all city zoning issues. Councilman Tom Bruno says he supports wind farms, but believes it's important that they not be built close to areas the city has slated for future development.
"I think that sound planning would have these wind farms, if they're appropriate for Champaign County, be built at a little safer distance from what is already inhabited municipality to allow for years of possible future growth without the conflict between wind turbines and residential housing," Bruno said.
Bruno supported a protest of the county board proposal, but the measure was narrowly defeated, 5 to 4. By the same margin, the Champaign City Council passed a resolution asking the county board to simply give them the 2-and-a-half mile zoning buffer. It's a request that's already been turned down by the county board's Environment and Land Use Committee. The full Champaign County Board will consider the wind farm proposal Thursday night.
Last week's sudden closure of a residential hotel in Champaign forced dozens of people to look for a place to live on short notice. It also forced the City of Champaign into action - not just to condemn the Gateway Studios for lack of utilities, but to help arrange housing for those residents, most of them low-income. Housing advocates see the evictions - and a similar incident at the Autumn Glen apartment Complex in Rantoul - to call for changes in housing policy in Champaign and Urbana. Former Urbana alderman Danielle Chynoweth has brought a proposal to the Champaign and Urbana city councils to offer cash assistance for relocation to people left homeless by condemnation - the landlord would be held responsible for that money. She spoke with AM 580's Tom Rogers.
The head of Champaign's Neighborhood Services department, Kevin Jackson, told AM 580's Jim Meadows last week that while rental help is available from agencies, some of it is based on the applicant's background. Jackson says the city is open to discussion on permanent policy changes.
A Champaign School Board candidate who lost her race by two votes will not contest the election results in court. Lynn Stuckey says after looking at previous case law, there doesn't appear to be any grounds for her to challenge the vote count - a recount last month found that Stig Lanesskog edged Stuckey by two votes for the third of three school board seats in an eight-way election. Stuckey says she'll still attend and speak out at Unit 4 board meetings and will decide later whether to run again.
Seven months after University of Illinois trustees agreed to let the school's Global Campus try to become a standalone, degree-granting institution, they're about to consider scaling it back.
University trustees meeting in Chicago Thursday will consider a measure that would start reshaping the university system's online effort based on a report put together by faculty.
That report calls for winding down the online global campus as it exists and opening again next year with a smaller staff and budget under the control of the university's three campuses.
The measure calls for more study on how to change Global Campus but makes clear that trustees are unhappy with low enrollment. Global Campus has 426 students but was expected to draw thousands.
The chief financial officer for the Champaign School District is expanding on his warning of tough financial times ahead.
In February, Gene Logas told the Champaign School Board that they would have to trim the budget for fiscal years 2010 and 2011 to adjust to recession-driven declines in state aid and sales tax revenue. On Monday night, he told board members that new data indicates that tax revenues may still be down in FY 2012. He says when that budget year approaches, the district should look at repeating something it last did in 2005.
"The working cash bonds that we issued several years ago are completely paid off by the time we get to 2011-2012," said Logas. "I think we'd have to look at the possibility of issuing some working cash bonds".
The Unit four school board could approve the bonds for FY 2012 without a referendum. But Logas says the district should seek public direction before it works out the three million dollar budget cut he's recommending for the FY 2011 budget.
A University of Illinois football player has been charged with two counts of aggravated battery after a bar fight that authorities say sent another man to the hospital.
Nineteen-year-old Mike Garrity of Batavia has pleaded not guilty after the fight at 1:55 a.m. Friday at Kam's, near campus.
Police say women at the bar told Garrity the unidentified man harassed them.
Champaign County prosecutor Julia Rietz says Garrity punched him, fracturing the man's skull. Rietz says the man is a university student and remained hospitalized Monday.
Garrity's attorney, Dan Pope, says he hasn't yet talked to his client.
Garrity is a 6-6, 310-pound sophomore lineman who has never played. A team spokeswoman says he's now suspended.
The assistant director of Ohio's prison system has won the top job at the Illinois Department of Corrections.
Gov. Pat Quinn announced Thursday that he is nominating Michael Randle to serve as director of the Illinois prison agency. He calls Randle "the best of the best.''
If confirmed by the state Senate, Randle will take over a system facing major challenges. Its prisons house far more inmates than they were designed to hold, while the size of the prison staff has been slashed by 25 percent.
Randle says he's concerned about the safety of overworked prison guards, but he's staying quiet about any possible solutions until he reviews the situation.
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